Sunday, November 25, 2007

It’s Sunday, my day off so finally a chance to catch my breath and update everyone! I‘ve just gotten up, and am having my coffee on the verandah of the house (which is right out my bedroom door) in the cool morning breeze. We have a lovely garden with fragrant jacaranda trees, beautiful flowers and lots of birds coming and going. As it’s Sunday morning, church services are going on and there is drumming and singing coming from all over. Very peaceful, just what I need after a hectic and exhausting week.

Arrived in Budalangi on Wednesday. It’s beautiful here, very much like Uganda so I feel right at home. It’s very rural, and a very small town (well town is a bit of an exaggeration, more like a few shops at a junction of two roads). It’s rather isolated in that there is one road in and out, and I’ve seen perhaps three cars on the roads besides ours since I’ve been here. Thousands of bicycles!! Bicycle is the main mode of transportation, and boda-boda (bicycle with seat on back) is a booming business. Seen a few piki-pikis (small scooters or motorcycles..sound they make is pikipikipikipiki – get it??) but otherwise walking and bodaboda are main modes of transport.

The people are absolutely lovely. I had some reservations about Kenyans after previous experiences here, but those were mainly in Nairobi and tourist areas, and I can’t say as I blame people in the tourist areas for being surly, having to deal with obnoxious and rude mzungus (white people). The people here are just like Ugandans…warm, friendly, happy, welcoming and absolutely hilarious. Despite the fact that the area has been absolutely devastated by flooding they are jovial, positive, and never complain. They are all very happy that MENTOR is here helping the community, and the people who work for MENTOR are very keen to help their fellow Kenyans. MENTOR is providing a huge economic boost to the area, we employ close to 100 people so it’s a big cash injection and obviously very welcome.

I have two mzungu coworkers at the moment, Fanette Blanc and Shpenzim (Benny) Krasniqi. Both are extremely hardworking and highly experienced in humanitarian emergencies. We all live together in the “expat house”. Fanette has been working with refugees in Chad (largely Somali refugees) and Benny has been all over the place. They are used to working in very stressful situations and with very basic living conditions. Chad has to deal with being in a war zone and there are rebel incursions frequently…security is a serious issue there. Also, living conditions very basic, no running water and electricity for only an hour a day. Budalangi is a luxury post for them! The only issue for me is a lack of hot water, but a cold shower feels good after a hot sweaty day, so I can deal with this. I went out and bought a new mattress yesterday (for a whopping $35) as the one on my bed was so mushy that I was basically sleeping on the board underneath it…my new mattress is hard as a rock so not substantially better, but I slept much better last night.

Internet connection is also an issue that I’m going to have to get used to…we use a cellular-based connection that gives priority to voice data so I get cut off in mid-stream constantly…been trying to download a small printer driver so I can print from my computer for days now and keep getting stymied by the internet cutting out. You have to send airtime for the internet card from your phone, and you have to load airtime for your phone from scratch cards that you buy. It’s not cheap! I’ve tried a couple of times to download Epi-Info, a data analysis software that is 65M…forget about it..i’ve gotten an hour into the download and cut off several times so I think I’ll give up on that one. Sometimes there is simply no connection when the phone system is busy. Frustrating for someone used to cable connection but I’d better get used to it or I’ll have a heart attack.

So now for the work. MENTOR is conducting IRS (Indoor Residual Spraying) in the area. Spraying insecticide on the inside walls of houses. After taking a blood meal, mosquitoes rest on walls inside (at least the species present here does; some rest outdoors, some feed outdoors, some feed indoors, some primarily bite people, some bite animals) so when they land on the sprayed walls they will be killed, breaking the transmission cycle of malaria. We are spraying every single house in the entire district. This is the first line intervention. Before doing the spraying, an IEC team (Information, Education and Communication) goes to the village to explain the process to them and provide education about malaria (many people don’t know what causes malaria or how to protect themselves). They are great, they do dramas (Africans LOVE dramas…one of the best ways to present information) and are absolutely hilarious.

So every day a huge team of 75 sprayers and IEC get on their bicycles (the only way we can access the area because of the flooding). I went into the field on Thursday with the IEC team on my super fancy Chinese “mountain” bike. Definitely not the kind of bike I’m used to – must weigh 100lb, no gears…dodging cows, goats, chickens and bodaboda on the very bumpy roads…anyways, we got where we needed to go. Had to hire a boat to get across the river because the bridge is washed out.

People have started returning to their homes but there are still IDP (Internally Displaced People, in humanitarian-speak) camps scattered throughout the area. People take tree limbs and make a frame to throw tarpaulins over to create shelters. However, the rains are about to begin again so the area will likely flood again.

When we rode to the field on Thursday I noticed a bunch of heavy equipment (trucks, bulldozers, cranes etc) sitting parked in a field. I wondered why they are not doing anything…they cannot move because of the broken dyke to get where they need to be to actually fix the dyke…they were sent here to repair and strengthen the dyke before it burst, but now can do nothing…typical African situation. The dyke cannot be repaired until things dry up and the rains stop, for several months. So meanwhile, all the equipment sits idle.

After the IRS, we will begin another IEC campaign for mosquito nets and begin distributing them to every household in the district. We will also be working with health care facilities to train clinical staff on treatment for malaria. MENTOR has procured thousands of doses of malaria drugs and will be stocking the clinics with these drugs.

I’m to carry out a lot of the administrative and human resources functions here. I’ll be responsible for all of the money (yikes), budgeting, controlling the disbursement of funds, payroll, etc. Benny, the operations manager, is going on leave for a month in December so I’ll be responsible for running the entire programme!! Everything from vehicle maintenance to resolving personnel issues to making sure there are sufficient supplies, etc etc. Also I’m supposed to be supervising the IEC team and making sure IEC runs smoothly. I get the feeling that everyone does everything here so I’ll be able to do lots of different things.

OK, that’s all for now..will try to post regularly but it may not be till Sunday again!

I'll only be able to post a few pictures at a time...they take forever to upload...but I'll try to put up a few every day. IEC in Rukhala subdivision - IEC team member Snorine introducing drama

Interested participants!

Love to everyone!

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